Atlanta — At the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting this Friday, one of the featured speakers was former White Sox first baseman Adam LaRoche, who famously quit professional baseball when his team wouldn’t let his son Drake join him in the team clubhouse before and after games. LaRoche talked about the importance of fatherhood, his joy in teaching his son hunting, and his work with charities fighting sex trafficking. His remarks concluded, Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, gave father and son gifts on behalf of the organization, a pair of Daniel Defense AR-15 rifles with suppressors.
Cox made a quick joke about how the gift of the gun to the younger LaRoche was just to annoy the media, and there was a knowing chuckle throughout the crowd.
In a post-Columbine world, quite a few Americans are unnerved by the sight of any gun, even unloaded, in the hands of anyone who doesn’t look like an adult. At the NRA convention’s massive floor show, it is not hard to find parents — usually dads — walking around with their kids and holding up and getting a feel for the various models. (The firing pins are removed from all firearms on display, and they cannot be fired.)
Guns cannot be purchased directly at the convention; browsers window-shop and, if they find one they like, apply later at a federally licensed gun dealership, where background checks are required. These licensed gun dealers cannot sell any firearm or ammunition to any customer the dealer “knows or has reasonable cause to believe is less than 18 years of age.”
Despite the lack of danger — the only way those guns could harm the child or anyone present is if they were dropped one on his toes — the image of a child with a gun hits a strong emotional chord in plenty of Americans. Numerous file photos of the convention from news agencies feature the perhaps unexpected image of a young child examining or holding up a firearm at the display of one among the multitude of gun manufacturers.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation offered a photo essay of the convention’s kids last year. Politico, MSNBC, and the Houston Chronicle all featured images of children holding guns — perfectly accurate photojournalism, but an image that no doubt was selected to stir a particular emotional response.
The New York Daily News featured a wide selection of these shots in 2013, denouncing the organization’s “Youth Day” as “sick” and quoting one activist: “They shouldn’t be teaching kids how to use guns. What happens when they get older? They might become like that Connecticut killer.” This position is as unreasonable as a nationwide ban on private gun ownership, with equally specious logic: Because of the actions of a particularly disturbed individual, no one should ever be taught how to use a gun.
Parents — usually fathers — have been hunting with their sons with firearms for about as long as there have been firearms. Most of America’s gun owners have the four universal rules of gun safety drilled into their head early on, and can recite them on demand:
‐Always treat all guns as if they are loaded.
‐Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to kill.
‐Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target (and you are prepared to shoot).
‐Be sure of your target and what is beyond it or behind it.
If everyone in America followed these rules, we would never have an accidental shooting, ever.
The National Rifle Association doesn’t want young children handling guns, and so it runs the “Eddie Eagle GunSafe” program for schools, designed to teach kids four steps they should take if they find a gun: Stop, don’t touch, run away, and tell a grown-up. This is absolute common sense, and the sort of message that every kid in the country should hear. Nothing in the program encourages kids to want guns, purchase guns when they’re older, or shoot guns. The potential harm of a gun in the wrong hands — and unprepared hands are the wrong hands — is made clear.
Despite the utterly innocuous message, some voices on the left object to the Eddie Eagle program. In Jacksonville, a mother complained that she wanted to teach her children that “all guns are bad.” She complained that “they’ve just undone seven years of parenting in one hour.”
The same media voices who are relentlessly opposed to private gun ownership are largely unwilling to give the Eddie Eagle program any credit or praise, often hitting it with nonsensical criticisms. At the Huffington Post, Mike Weisser dismissed the program as a “cynical and craven marketing ploy.” (Marketing what?) The Brady Campaign contends that Eddie Eagle “normalizes the presence of guns in kids’ lives from a very early age.” (Isn’t telling the kids to run away from them and tell a grown-up the opposite of “normalizing” them?) Like everything else that doesn’t fit with the worldview of the studio audience of a New York City comedy show, Eddie Eagle has been mocked by Samantha Bee.
What’s never quite explained is why the Eddie Eagle program is bad, or something to be opposed in schools.
One objection is that the Eddie Eagle program is insufficient; gun-control advocates point to a 2004 study involving eleven children ages four to five that concluded that kids would recite the safety rules but then not use them in real-life situations (when the children didn’t know they were being monitored). But a 2007 study found that the program was effective “when paired with in-situ training [teaching the skill in the natural environment] for teaching firearm injury prevention skills to 8- and 9-year-old children.”
Gun-control advocates contend that the proper way to prevent accidental shootings is to pass new laws punishing gun owners if they don’t keep their guns in locked safes. That’s debatable; what’s never quite explained is why the Eddie Eagle program is bad, or something to be opposed in schools. Even the skeptical study of 2004 noted that the children all absorbed and recalled the safety rules.
It’s just an article of faith that any NRA program involving children must be some sort of subtle indoctrination or manipulation. Where’s the harm in having a giant anthropomorphic animal teaching kids to avoid touching guns and to report any abandoned firearm to the nearest responsible adult?
Everyone wants to see a world with no accidental shootings involving anyone, and particularly a world where no children are harmed by firearms. But America’s gun owners have an opposition that won’t cooperate, won’t give them the benefit of the doubt, accuses them of sinister motives, and that actually tries to block their efforts in this area.
When the opposing side finds a six-foot-tall eagle mascot a menace, every child attending a gun show a potential mass shooter, and every safety presentation a nefarious trick to undo years of parenting, it’s very hard to have a conversation, much less ever reach agreement.